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Post-Godhra riots: Nanavati panel gives clean chit to Modi

Ahmedabad: Over 17 years after the post-Godhra riots, the Nanavati Commission has given a clean chit to the then chief minister Narendra Modi’s government for the violence that killed 1,000 people in Gujarat, but said local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal workers were involved in incidents in their areas.

The two-member inquiry commission’s report, which runs into more than 2,500 pages, was tabled in the Gujarat assembly on Wednesday.

The report rejected the evidences provided by three former IPS officers, who had taken on the then government, but said police personnel were ill-equipped and their strength was inadequate to deal with the situation, which emboldened mobs to commit violence.

The inquiry commission was headed by Justice G T Nanavati, a retired Supreme Court judge, and Justice Akshay Mehta, an ex-Gujarat High Court judge, was its other member.

The Nanavati-Mehta panel noted that “There is no evidence to show these attacks were either inspired or instigated or abetted by any minister of the state.”

The Commission was appointed by the then chief minister Narendra Modi to probe the riots, which took place after the burning of two coaches of Sabarmati Express train near Godhra railway station, in which 59 ‘karsevaks’ were killed on February 27, 2002.

“On an overall consideration of the entire material, the Commission finds that the communal riots which followed the Godhra incident (the train fire) were really by way of an aftermath of that incident,” said the panel in its report which has nine volumes. “It was because of the Godhra incident that large sections of Hindu community became very angry and ultimately indulged in violent attacks on Muslims and their properties,” the report observed.

The Commission said it did not find any evidence against “any religious or political party or organisations as such” in connection with the riots. “The only thing that can be said with some certainty, on the basis of evidence which has come before the commission, is that local members of the VHP and Bajrang Dal took part in the incidents which happened in their localities,” it said.

The panel said the post-Godhra riots that spread out in the state were “not a pre-planned conspiracy or orchestrated violence”. There is no substance in allegations that state authorities had turned a blind eye to the post-Godhra riots, it said. The Commission sought to dispel suspicion on Modis visit to Godhra, around 125km from here, on the day of the train burning (February 27, 2002). It was not necessary for the chief minister to inform all high officers of the state that he was going to Godhra. The concerned officers were informed about his visit and they had made necessary arrangements for that visit.

“It was not a secret visit… There is also no material to show that the chief minister, by entering the burnt coach-S6, disturbed any evidence and that it was done with some ulterior motive,” the report said.

The panel questioned the credibility of three former IPS officers – Sanjiv Bhatt, Rahul Sharma and R B Sreekumar – who had alleged the state government’s involvement in the riots. After close scrutiny of the evidence, it is not possible to say that there was any negligence on the part of police, it noted. However, it is very much necessary the state has a disciplined police force to ensure that peace and tranquility of the society is not disturbed, the panel said.

On allegations that police officers allowed miscreants to attack Muslims in Ahmedabad city during the riots, the panel said things went out of control because police were outnumbered and ill-equipped to rein in violent mobs whose strength went up to more than 10,000 people at some places.

On riots in Ahmedabad city, one of the worst affected areas in the state, the Commission said, “The police had not shown their competence and eagerness which was necessary.”

The report has recommended inquiries or action, which were halted after the Commission was formed, against the erring police officers. It said the authorities should see the media acts with “restraint” during such difficult times (riots), and that immediate effective action should be taken against the media if it is found to be transgressing the limits.

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